In a boon for religious concord and tourism, spiritual and commercial benefits are on the list of “positive effects” anticipated from Pope Francis’s upcoming interreligious prayer at the archaeological site of Ur during his March 5-8 trip to Iraq.
The announcement was made a few days ago by Reuters and other news agencies and was met with approval by local authorities, who see the event as advantageous at a time when the Iraqi international tourism industry has been practically destroyed by the Gulf wars and COVID restrictions.
While the material advantages of Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq are certainly good news for local populations, and while the remnant of Iraqi Christians – left behind after a massive exodus of their community under Islamic law and the threat of persecution – await his coming with hope, this new interreligious initiative raises many questions.
It clearly finds its place among other pet projects of this pontificate. Among them are the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity co-signed by Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb of Al-Azhar University of Cairo, the supreme Sunni authority, and the building of the “Abrahamic Family House” in Abu Dhabi that will set a synagogue, a Christian church, and a mosque together on an equal footing, with the blessing of the “Higher Committee to Implement the Document on Human Fraternity.” This is the document that claimed God “willed the diversity of religions.”
The event will also be in line with Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.
Human fraternity is again being brought to the fore by the Pope through common prayers with other religions at the highest level, rather than showing that true fraternity derives from paternity, not of a multi-faceted God but that of God the Father whom Christians adore in the Most Holy Trinity.
And once again, the so-called “Abrahamic religions” are being touted by the event’s organizers.
Pope Francis will go to Ur as the birthplace of Abram, the place the patriarch left for Harran, from which he departed at age 75 at God’s command to leave everything and head to Canaan, under the new, God-given name of Abraham, in order to found a nation as numerous as the stars in heaven. It was there that he fathered Isaac at age 99.
The “father” of the Jews is a figure of Christian salvation history. His son, Isaac, whom Abraham accepted to sacrifice from obedience to God, is a type of Christ, his father’s only Son, freely giving His life on the cross for the redemption of mankind.
Seen from the current Vatican perspective, the common ancestry of Abraham should change relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims, making them realize that they have one and the same founder. Representatives of the three religions will join for the “Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham,” as it has been dubbed by the Vatican.
Parte inferior do formulário
Other minorities will be present, including the Yazidi, who were persecuted in the Syrian civil war – they practice an ancient Mithraic worship probably marked by islam, with a black serpent as one of their main objects of veneration – and Mandaean-Sabaeans, a Gnostic sect venerating St. John the Baptist.
The prayer service, according to the Vatican, will focus on “harmony between religious groups.”
In one of the world’s first and oldest cities, where writing may have been invented and where centralized power is supposed to have originated, excavations made about a century ago by British archaeologist Leonard Wooley revealed a ziggurat (a pyramidal temple resembling the Tower of Babel as far as historians can tell) and a closed residential area springing up in the middle of a barren plain. It is in this residential complex that Abraham is supposed to have been born. But it is not certain that Ur, some 300 km south of Baghdad, is actually the Ur of Chaldeans of which the Bible speaks. Several ancient towns in Mesopotamia could compete for the title, including a port on the Turkish coast. Wooley spread that tale and it has been around ever since.
On March 6, Pope Francis will act on the presumption that Abraham was indeed born there. It is not yet clear where the prayer service will be conducted — either in or near the vestiges of the ancient housing quarter at the foot of the pagan temple erected around 1900 B.C., or on the heavily restored temple itself.
The old Ur was best known in ancient times as a worshipping place for Sîn, or Nanna, the god of the moon, son of the winds and father of the sun, and of Venus, the pagan divinity who was linked with fertility and the female cycle and was especially invoked for the fecundity of cowherds. A public prayer in this location by the Pope – a prayer that would not proclaim the truth of the Triune God and the fact that salvation comes from the Incarnation of the only Son of God the Father – would send the Church yet a bit further along the road of religious syncretism. We shall see.
But however the ceremony unfolds, there is a fundamental problem with the concept of “Abrahamic religions” that suggests a sort of unity in the diversity of religious expressions that identify with the patriarch of Genesis.
But speaking of the so-called “Abrahamic religions” as variations on a single theme is deceptive. The Hebrews, who worshipped the true God, received the true promise of the Messiah but did not recognize Him. Jesus Christ brought the full revelation of the truth, revealing that the God of the Bible is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This revelation is complete so that nothing can be added on Earth to the deposit of faith. Islam violently rejects the truth about the Holy Trinity and rewrites and corrupts the inspired Holy Scriptures, giving the letter of the Koran a form of divine status since it is deemed “uncreated.”
It is true that Islam refers to Abraham in the same way it mentions other patriarchs and characters of the Old Testament, distorting the story of the Virgin Mary (Myriam) and of Jesus (called Issa, not Yeshua in the Koran, and certainly not the Son of God who died and rose again). Western scholars of Islam have shown that the religion of Mohammed, as presented in the Koran, borrows many things from Judaism and Christianity, simplifying and confusing them and adapting them to the needs of Mohammed’s desert tribe. It appears more as a corruption of the true “monotheistic religions” than as a new religion that in any case would not be acceptable for those who believe in the veracity of the religion of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah.
It would also be a mistake to believe that Islam recognizes Christianity as a true monotheism, when it repeatedly condemns the so-called “associaters” who “associate” other divinities with the one and only God. These include Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.
Surely, the Christians of Iraq, now a dwindling minority living with the memory of bloody attacks and rampant persecution, will be encouraged by the Pope’s visit. Will it also strengthen their faith? When “tolerance” is the watchword for such an event, and human well being and peaceful cohabitation are promoted, the thing might even work to a certain extent. But the supernatural price to pay for the watering down of truth may well be heavy.
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